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Spring Position Breakdown: Linebackers

Washington hopes a healthy Ulofoshio will help turn this into a position of strength for the first time in years

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Cal at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2022 Position Recap

We knew there would be plenty of change with Edefuan Ulofoshio suffering an injury last offseason that was projected to keep him out past midseason plus Jackson Sirmon’s transfer to Cal. Pitt transfer Cam Bright came in with a lot of hype and the thought was he would be joined by Carson Bruener to form the starting pair. Instead, Alphonzo Tuputala made a surprise rise up the depth chart and played the most snaps of any LB. Bright struggled while fellow grad transfer Kris Moll played well as a backup mostly on passing downs and Bruener also played a lot of snaps in reserve.

Position Losses

Gr. Cam Bright- It was a known one and done for Bright coming over from Pittsburgh but things didn’t go the way he wanted. His 45.1 PFF grade was by far the lowest of his career (4 seasons between 62.1 and 78.7 at Pitt) and the coaching staff wasn’t able to find the best way to use him effectively.

Gr. Kris Moll- Moll came over from UAB and was UW’s best coverage linebacker in his lone season with the Huskies. His playing time gradually increased as the season went on last year.

Jr. Daniel Heimuli- Danny Hammers was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school but he played just 200 defensive snaps in 3 seasons and couldn’t break into the rotation last year. This offseason he entered the portal and transferred to Arizona.

New Additions

Gr. Ralen Goforth- Once again the Huskies brought in a grad transfer to shore up the linebacker depth and this time it comes from inside the conference. Goforth has played over 1,200 defensive snaps for the USC Trojans over his career and is now the most experienced linebacker in the room.

Fr. Jordan Whitney- Whitney enters the program as a mid 3-star recruit who has good size at 6’2 but will look to put on muscle entering college. He’s already on campus and participated in the first few practices.

Fr. Deven Bryant- Bryant was rated similarly to Whitney coming out of high school but doesn’t quite have the same measurables at 5’11. Still, he was the defensive star of the #1 HS football team in the country at St. John Bosco and has A+ football instincts to help make up for anything missing from his athletic profile. He’s also already on campus.

Spring Storylines to Watch

1. Healthy Eddie

In 2022 for the 2nd consecutive year the Huskies had one of the expected stars of their defense suffer a serious injury in the offseason and come back late in the season only to not quite look like themselves. In 2021 it was ZTF and this past year it was Edefuan Ulofoshio. In his return he played 84 defensive snaps and finished with 8 tackles and 1 QB pressure. For his career prior to that he averaged 16 tackles and 2 pressures per 84 snaps. Those came in a different defensive system but Ulofoshio was half as productive in that small sample.

Part of that may be due to said small sample, part of it may be not getting an offseason playing in the new system, and part of it may be that he wasn’t quite 100% yet. Hopefully all of those get fixed over the next month. Ulofoshio has been running with the starters primarily and if he fully gets back his athleticism with a healthy offseason as well as the experience in the system over the spring then look out next fall.

2. Goforth and Conquer?

Last season Washington brought in a pair of grad transfers who ended up 2nd and 3rd in snaps at the linebacker position. This year they’re bringing in Goforth who has plenty of experience but also some warts on his resume. He has never had a season with a PFF grade better than 51.1 (below average but better than Bright or Ulofoshio last year) and has a career missed tackle rate of 19.4%. That doesn’t provide a ton of confidence. But unlike last year the Huskies have to feel okay about their depth if Goforth isn’t quite what the coaching staff hoped for. The trio of Tuputala/Ulofoshio/Bruener should ensure that if Goforth sees a ton of the field it’s because he can be a good player for the Huskies rather than just that he knows how to be in the right spot pre-snap.

3. Walk-Ons Running

It feels like the 4 names I’ve mentioned in the spots above seem pretty entrenched as likely contenders for playing time but a few walk-ons have been getting run with the 2nd and 3rd team during the early few spring practices (that’s been in part due to Carson Bruener being limited). Drew Fowler is a name many Husky fans have kept an eye on after he turned down a scholarship offer from Utah to stay home and play for the Dawgs who didn’t have room on scholarship at the time. He is far more talented than your average walk-on and it’s not crazy to think he could break into the 2-deep long-term and earn a scholarship. Other walk-ons participating in spring include Styles Siva-Tu’u and Austin Harnetiaux.

In addition to the walk-ons it will be interesting to see if either the true freshmen pair of Whitney and Bryant or Demario King can challenge for playing time right away. King came in as a JUCO transfer but missed all of last season due to injury so is also pretty close to square one when it comes to breaking through on the depth chart. He has experience playing safety and Washington will need to find the next LB with Kris Moll departing who they most feel comfortable putting into coverage situations on passing downs.